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Car Activists See 35th Avenue NE as a Blueprint to Thwart Safety Upgrades

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“You’re a liar,” an enraged, middle-aged man shaking a red sign with the words “SAVE 35th” in white block letters screamed as a young woman expressed support for traffic improvements to 35th Avenue NE in Seattle’s Bryant/Ravenna/Wedgwood neighborhood. “You lie!” he kept yelling as she tried to go over data related to how bike lanes and pedestrian improvements reduce speeds and accidents. “This is fake news!” This occurred in front of the local library, when the two sides of the issue met during a community event.

Normally you’d think residents would applaud an attempt by the city to make their neighborhood safer, but this project, like projects across the city that have suddenly become political firestorms, removes parking and adds bike lanes. These two issues have overwhelmed any other aspect, benefit or consideration. Almost overnight, businesses who feared losing free parking on public streets had red placards in their windows asking residents to “SAVE 35th – save our parking”.

A few residents then got involved and mobilized a petition opposed to the improvements. How they converted a project originally inspired by the community into controversy is the epitome of how these groups have thwarted progress all over the country. And this is not by accident, the Save 35th group enlisted the assistance of social media consultants and a representative from Keep LA Moving, John Russo. Mr. Russo and others have provided guidance to the group and it is this template that is being used to stop the implementation of bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, and road diets in our city and all over the country.

Editor’s note:  Recently, the Save 35th group won even more concessions from Mayor’s Durkan office. A fourth parking study was performed in an attempt to appease them, and now, Mayor Durkan has hired a mediator (John Howell from Cedar River Group) at a cost of $14,000 (despite an apparent conflict of interest due to ties with a Save 35th leader) to give them even more of a chance to air their opinions. It’s intended that Mr. Howell will meet with those opposed and those for the safety improvements and attempt to reach an agreement that somehow satisfies everybody.

Some history though before we discuss how in the world we got here. In 2012, residents of four neighborhoods in north Seattle began a process to enhance 35th Avenue NE. They formed committees, developed concepts and detailed ideas. They performed public outreach, staffed tables at community events and held ‘coffee talks’ where experts explained design and engineering concepts. So successful was this, they won a local neighborhood grant from the city to hire consultants to further their plans. Again, they did so well, in 2016, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) took over and again, held public meetings, solicited feedback, setup online surveys and questionnaires, and engaged the community. The 2014 Bicycle Master Plan for the city included bike lanes on 35th.

Then, in late 2017, SDOT released their design documents, and it is then, and only then, that businesses flew into action and certain residents started attending public meetings and other community events.

The problem was, they hadn’t been paying attention. They hadn’t been bothered to get involved with the plans for 35th until businesses and concerned neighbors began making them aware of it on NextDoor and other social media sites, and of course, the red signs went up.

But with the history of the project, the incredible amount of community involvement, the public outreach, the designs and the plans, they had to figure out a way to make it seem like they’d never been engaged, that a paving project was now, all the sudden, changing the neighborhood.

This first tactic was almost natural because for many of them, it was true. They’d ignored the surveys and the postcards on their doorsteps, shewed away the nice people at their door and said no thank you to the people holding clipboards in front of the grocery store. So, they argued that this was all happening too fast, and we needed to slow down and work as a community to develop a new plan–one that would keep all parking and not add bike lanes.

At first, the Save 35th group was unashamedly all about not losing parking. It was all over their signs and their notices. They invented a number–that the plans would reduce parking by sixty-percent–and splashed it over everything (they’ve never been able to explain where this figure came from–even after repeated requests).

They were also unabashedly opposed to bike lanes. They did not care about any data to the contrary. Even though 35th is the only street that goes north to south without interruption (all other streets stop and start randomly), they argued cyclists could just use side streets. In now deleted social media posts and tweets, they taunted cyclists and made fun of bike lanes. Then, unfortunately, they made fun of the wrong people and had to delete their Twitter account completely after a collection of mothers who cycle took them to task for a particularly sexist tweet. They also removed their ratings from Facebook and comments had to be approved. But, they remained adamantly opposed–even going so far as to brag about holding up bike lanes on a connecting street (NE 65th Street) where a cyclist died.

It’s important too to note that these are Seattleites. These people overwhelmingly caucused for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and have environmental stickers on their Leafs, Bolts and Priuses. In any other instance, they lament that lack of facts and science in public policy, and urge lawmakers and public officials to be inclusive and progressive. How ironic then that these same people, when faced with overwhelming data that slated safety improvements would reduce collisions, improve livability, and make the neighborhood safer, called it ‘fake news’ and ‘lies’.

And this was their next tactic. When they were faced with the history and could not argue that improvements had come out of the blue and no one had tried to tell them, they turned to calling everything a falsehood. When all facts are questionable, there are no facts. Every piece of data was not good enough. If city officials pointed out that safety plans had helped other cities reduce accidents, it was not Seattle. When representatives pointed out how improvements helped diminish collisions on other streets in the city and the neighborhood, it was not 35th. By constantly moving the target, no data was ever enough.

And, it didn’t hurt that they refused to believe any facts. Any time SDOT provided a study, it was bogus; when an engineer explained how rechannelization reduced speeds without drastically effecting travel times, she was ‘cherry picking facts.’ Actual data from traffic and parking studies – multiple studies performed by engineers – were packed with lies and untruths, to the point where they would call people liars and scammers and hacks for the city hall.

A natural progression from constructing an environment where you don’t believe facts is to move into playing on people’s fears and concerns, and this was where they went next. They began spouting anything that they knew would scare people, especially the elderly – you won’t be able to park anywhere near your destination; rogue cyclists will run you down as you try to get out of your car; children will have to exit school buses into busy streets; and runaway commuters will be gunning through side streets at 50 mile-per-hour. They went so far as to claim that the improvements did not include any pedestrian improvements (the plans include extensive ADA improvements, as well as sidewalk widening, curb bulbs, fixing buckling and cracked areas, and improving intersections). Another one they used a lot was that the changes – any changes – will cause congestion on 35th and that will send commuters on to other streets.

Despite its growth, Seattle is still a commuter city as well – millions of people flood in every work day and flood out every night, and they only see roads as ways to get to their destination. Our city has been for decades designed to accommodate this setup, and it’s done nothing to promote safety, livability and inclusiveness.

And that last issue, inclusiveness, is where they went next. People for the bike lanes were ‘ableists’ and ‘young tech bros’, and improvements (regardless of a myriad of pedestrian and vehicle safety improvements) would only benefit the fit and the young, and make it more difficult for the elderly and the disabled. Despite numerous elderly and handicapable people speaking out about how the improvements would help them, from a woman explaining that she cannot drive due to her disabilities but can operate an electric-assist bike, to another woman detailing that she feels unsafe in her motorized wheelchair on 35th because of the speeds cars drive on it, it did not matter.

Those opposed to the improvements flipped the issue–realizing improvements would help more people and make the street safer for more people, they turned an advantage into a disadvantage. They targeted churches and community centers, stood out in front with their petitions, and preyed upon their concerns and fears. They told neighbors they wouldn’t be able to find parking at the library or the post office anymore, that they’d have to park miles away from their destination and walk all the way, and that the improvements would actually make the street more dangerous.

And this was something Russo from Keep LA Moving advised them to do–frame it so they are the ones actually worried about safety, not SDOT. Not only that, despite the studies and data showing the street would be safer, they argued no one cared about vulnerable people. They filled their posts and notices with the word ‘safety’. They invented ways to argue that safety improvements would make the road less safe: crazy cyclists, too much happening on the road (cyclists, pedestrians and cars), less visibility (removing parking actually improves visibility), and of course, congestion causing drivers to scream through side streets running down children and cats like a game of Death Race 2000.

The problem has been and remains that they have no data–no studies, no engineering, no science–to support any of this. And they don’t need it. Once they’d told half-truths and untruths, and really got people scared, they launched a communication blitz aimed at the mayor’s office. They had 3,000 signatures (none of which have been verified and many are admittedly from outside the neighborhood and city) and they bombarded the mayor with calls, emails and meeting requests. She took notice. She sought to appease them. She agreed to ‘relook’ at parking studies (there had already been three) and take their concerns into consideration.

This is what is happening in Seattle right now and all over the country. The people with no facts, no statics, no science, and no engineering are getting their way. Mayor Durkan has stopped safety improvements on other streets (despite the fact that studies have shown they really do improve safety for all users) and she’s underfunded and delayed significant transportation plans that would offer more transportation options and reduce accidents. She’s putting me and my friends and family in greater danger to appease people with no basis for their concerns and no facts to support their contentions.

This is how we ruin cities, neighborhoods and communities. Our leaders lack vision. They crumble under the weight of difficult decisions. They let bias and prejudice determine policy. They do not invest in the future and they let fears hold back their potential. The problem is, we pay for it. Our roads become more congested, our infrastructure and bridges fail, our communities become less safe and less enjoyable, improvements become more expensive, and we lose lives pointlessly.

We’ve seen this before. We’re living it right now. Hopefully by recognizing these tactics and developing plans ahead of time to deal with them, other communities and other neighborhoods can follow a better path and implement safety improvements for everyone in the community.

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macjustice
2 days ago
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jad
2 days ago
uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh
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The J is for Judge: It Takes One to Know One

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Critics of Seattle’s out-of-whack zoning scheme—two-thirds of the city is zoned exclusively for single-family housing—have been arguing for decades now that Seattle needs to grow up (or build up, actually) and function like an actual city, not a suburb.

This isn’t an argument about aesthetics. It’s an argument for housing affordability and environmental sustainability, both urgent issues given the homelessness crisis and the latest climate change data from the U.N., respectively.

The blunt argument from pro-city urbanists has been that the Magnolia First ideology (or Laurelhurst First or Wallingford First or Phinney Ridge First) of single-family zoning stalwarts  selfishly defends an unsustainable lifestyle that reeks of privilege and exclusion (and the delusion that people have a constitutional right to free parking in front of their houses).

In short: The NIMBYs’ aesthetic position—that we must preserve the “character” of exclusionary neighborhoods—is undermining Seattle’s livability and affordability for the rest of us.

If you think the urbanist critique of single-family zoning lacks credibility because hipster urbanists supposedly don’t have kids or haven’t lived here long enough or are too young or don’t own houses (most people in Seattle are renters, by the way), let me introduce you to the latest critic of Seattle’s refusal to grow up and act like a city: An actual suburbanite, who lives in an actual suburb, state Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1, Maltby).

Palumbo is proposing a bill  that would make Seattle do something it refuses to do on its own: Upzone its suburban-style landscape to take on more density.

The 45-year-old state senator argues that Seattle’s failure to play its designated urban role in our region is undermining the state’s anti-sprawl Growth Management Act.  Palumbo’s point: Seattle’s refusal to accept more growth is causing sprawl, the very opposite of what smart cities are supposedly about. (Maltby is northeast of Kirkland and Woodinville, and due east of Lynnwood.)

Sen. Palumbo’s state legislative district (which largely overlaps with Snohomish County Council Districts 4 and 5 on the charts below) has, in fact, seen  growth on par with Seattle’s, at least as a percentage of population—around 14 percent, including 17.4 percent growth in portions of the district. It’d be one thing if that spike in growth simply represented small-town numbers growing to slightly bigger small-town numbers. But we’re talking an extra 40,000 people added to a population of 285,000. It’s as if everyone on Mercer Island picked up and moved to Palumbo’s district. And then a couple of years later, half of Mercer Island picked up and did it again.

Seattle itself has grown 17.2 percent over the same time (2010 to 2017). But Palumbo isn’t arguing Seattle hasn’t grown significantly; he’s pointing out that it should be growing a lot more than the suburbs if the region is going to grow sustainably.

“They are taking growth,” he says of Seattle. “The problem is the growth they aren’t taking is moving at too high a level to places that aren’t equipped to deal with it and service it. Snohomish is taking the growth that should be in Seattle,” he reasons. “If Seattle only built the types of housing people wanted and needed,” he adds, it would also increase housing supply, slowing the increase in housing prices that are nudging people out to the remote suburbs. Sprawl.

Palumbo condemns Seattle’s rigid zoning because, he says, it’s forcing families who would actually prefer to live in the city to move into his suburban southwest Snohomish County district instead. “Seattle is zoned low-density, single-family,” he says.  As a result, “people can’t even afford one of the few and overpriced houses there, and they have to move. And they move out to the suburbs. ”

Why, there oughta be a law!

Lucky thing Palumbo is a state senator.

According to Palumbo, his draft bill (which the Urbanist first reported earlier this month),  would require increased density within a mile of frequent transit service—areas near light rail stations or near bus stops where buses arrive at least every 15 minutes. Although the details of the bill could change, Palumbo envisions a mandatory density that slopes down as development fans out: 150 dwelling units per acre within a quarter-mile of frequent transit; 45 units per acre within half a mile of transit; and 14 units per acre within a 1 mile radius. (Asked whether cities could build more densely than the minimums required by his bill, Palumbo said he hadn’t thought of that.)

Palumbo tells me his legislation isn’t a one-size-fits-all bill, and those particular numbers are only intended for Seattle. Different numbers would apply to transit-friendly neighborhoods in smaller cities and towns where transit is less frequent and where target densities are lower. (He also acknowledged that his “units per acre” metric was a bit backwards—that is, you can’t logically prescribe units-per acre rules on an individual development without a universal picture of all the proposed developments in the upzoned area.)

He said his metric was simply meant to describe the ultimate density he envisions, and that Seattle could apply units per lot and floor area ratio metrics to achieve the 14 units per acre within his 1-mile radius performance standard, for example.

Seattle is already (sorta) moving in this direction, though as cautiously as a cat burglar tip-toeing up the stairs.

This year, the council is taking up a plan that’s been in play since 2015 to upzone a tiny percentage of the city’s vast single-family neighborhoods. Focusing on the edges of single family zones that are near designated residential urban villages, the city proposal, known as  Mandatory Housing Affordability (it simultaneously makes developers fund affordable housing), would upzone six percent of single family zoned land into slightly denser residential small lot zones, low-rise zones, and Neighborhood Commercial zones. The changes would help create  what pro-housing urbanists call the “Missing Middle.”

The density increase Palumbo’s proposing within a half and quarter mile of frequent transit service—45 and 150 units per acre, respectively—would already be allowed (though not required) under both current Seattle zoning and under MHA changes to Lowrise zones and Neighborhood Commercial zones.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the MHA rezone area  in strict single-family zones (so about four percent of that current zoning)—the   Residential Small Lot upzone—would permit density of about 20 units per acre, according to some back-of-the-envelope math city staffers did after they read about Sen. Palumbo’s proposal for comparison’s sake.

Again, while not required (as it is in Palumbo’s formula), that would actually be slightly more permissive than the density Palumbo is proposing a mile away from transit stops (his 14 units per acre). But that’s only in the sliver of single family areas rezoned under MHA; under Palumbo’s mandate, the larger swath of single family areas left untouched by MHA would face a significant upzone.

In other words, when it comes to the majority of Seattle’s single family zones, Mr. Palumbo of Maltby is far more woke about requiring dense, sustainable land use than Seattle and its leaders—even though today’s leading climate scientists are demanding dramatic action to address pending environmental calamity.

Seattle leaders do not have a good track record when it comes to standing up to the Magnolia First faction and making this change. Back in 2009, former Mayor Greg Nickels initially backed  a Futurewise/Transportation Choices Coalition state bill that would have promoted more density around transit hubs. But when traditional neighborhood activists said the proposal would turn Seattle into Mumbai, intimidating Nickels’ wary deputy mayor Tim Ceis, Nickels stepped away from the bill as his reelection loomed. (The legislation failed.)

And, of course, former Mayor Ed Murray folded on his original proposal to upzone all single family zones in 2015, watering his proposal down to the current six percent plan when the NIMBYs at the Seattle Times protested on behalf of their home-owning readers.

I contacted the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office to see if they supported Palumbo’s urgent push for more density. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said she hadn’t seen the bill, which is still in early draft form.

Meanwhile, Seattle City Council Member Rob Johnson, who’s leading the city’s limited MHA upzone effort, responded. Johnson, who was the director of TCC back in 2009 when the pro-transit  group went to the mat for the state upzone legislation, cautioned: “Been there done that.” He did note, though, that Palumbo was starting “an interesting conversation.”

Ultimately, Johnson argued that Palumbo’s statewide approach isn’t likely to succeed, pointing out that some suburban cities, such as Sammamish, Issaquah, and Federal Way, have gone so far as to impose moratoria on new development. (After a year, the Sammamish City Council effectively lifted the moratorium  as did the Issaquah City Council. )

However, Johnson has a point. Several Puget Sound cities have enacted development bans, making it clear that A) they’re queasy about more density and B) they’re not going to take kindly to some dude from the state legislature telling them how to manage growth.

Seattle is behaving like a suburb when the state is relying on it to be a city.

Johnson says the local approach he’s now heading up as a Seattle City Council member is more likely to work, although—recalling how Nickels backed away from the Futurewise/TCC bill—he acknowledged there’s dedicated resistance to new development in Seattle as well.  For example, he lamented the fact that single-family home owners are currently funding a legal effort to tie up the MHA upzone in a  battle in front of the City Hearing Examiner.

Resistance to development in Seattle has already undermined the rezones Johnson passed in 2016 and 2017 as part of MHA Part 1, when the city upzoned five (already) densely populated commercial/residential Urban Centers,  including downtown, plus one Residential Urban Village at 23rd & Union-Jackson.

To wit: After unanimously passing the downtown upzone, the city council halted one of the first proposed developments proposed under the new zoning (even drafting talking points for the opposition) when a developer wanted to tear down the talismanic  Showbox music venue to build more housing.

Johnson does have a point about state legislation: The merits of Palumbo’s bill are likely to be overshadowed by a meta question of governance that could stall the state senate legislation: Should the state have the right to micromanage local land use issues?

But Palumbo has a point too. When local policies spill over legislators’ borders to threaten a green and progressive state law like the Growth Management Act, which was intended to combat regional problems like sprawl, then yes, the state has a role to play.

It takes one to know one. Suburbanite Palumbo is telling it like it is: Seattle is behaving like a suburb when the state is relying on it to be a city.

The post The J is for Judge: It Takes One to Know One appeared first on The C Is for crank.

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macjustice
2 days ago
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Interacting with Trump Supporters

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A lot of generally good folks on the left are saying that Progressives need to be less wimpy and be more like the Republicans. I get that one ought not compromise principles in hopes of persuading people. I also get that there’s a place for righteous anger. And maybe (maybe?) if you can just get enough angry lefties to turn out, you can seize power for one election cycle?

But at the end of the day, the most powerful and lasting politics are the politics of consensus. And a heck of a lot of people voted for Trump.

My entire job is basically to argue with people. For Justice. As any decent1 attorney could tell you, unnecessarily alienating people is a bad opening gambit. Listen to the other side. Acknowledge their concerns if they are valid and it costs nothing to do so. Find basic things you can agree on. Emphasize any place they are being reasonable. Remind them that you are also reasonable people. And that being reasonable people surely they will also agree with all of the reasonable things that you want. If you’re willing to give up the satisfaction of humiliating your enemies, you can get more of everything else.

The Republicans have weaponized a strategic reserve of white resentment. Any time we fail to honor the human dignity of our political opponents, we add to it. Being a jerk about your progressive values adds nothing and compromises those values.

Michelle Obama understands power better than Michael Avenatti. Go high.


  1. Full disclosure: There are a lot of terrible attorneys who haven’t figured this out yet. ↩︎

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macjustice
9 days ago
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bhasanova
8 days ago
This feels a little strawman-like. The incivility that people on the left (or even center left) want right now is at the GOP, not just so much conservative neighbors and family members. Should we start acting more civil to sociopaths like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz?
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Google Maps Adds Commuting Features

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Google has announced that later this week, it will add several new features to its Maps app for iOS and Android commuters. The update includes live, personalized traffic data, support for ‘mixed-mode’ commutes, real-time bus and train tracking, and integration with Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify.

The update will include a dedicated ‘Commute’ tab in the Maps app. After users identify their commute, Google Maps will provide live traffic data about the route. The Android app will also include notifications about delays as they happen so you can adjust your trip.

Google Maps will also support mixed-mode commutes. That means, for example, commuters who travel by car, train, and on foot will see commute information relevant to each leg of their journey. Real-time bus and train tracking is being added in 80 cities worldwide too.

Playback controls for Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music is coming to Google Maps. Spotify users on Android will also be able to browse and select content from inside the app.

As someone who used to commute by train every day, I particularly appreciate the focus on public transportation. Google hasn’t said, but hopefully, these new features are included as part of Google Maps’ CarPlay integration too.

Google Maps is available as a free download on the App Store.


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macjustice
19 days ago
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"For me this is paradise." The Spanish city of Pontevedra went from 14,000 cars to zero.

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"For me this is paradise." The Spanish city of Pontevedra went from 14,000 cars to zero.

↩︎ The Guardian

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macjustice
22 days ago
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1 public comment
sarcozona
31 days ago
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Brb packing

If American high schools didn't have male contact sports, they'd save between $5.1 and $18.4 billion per year.

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If American high schools didn't have male contact sports, they'd save between $5.1 and $18.4 billion per year.

↩︎ The Journal of Sports Economics

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22 days ago
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